Zack writes in about taking days off in the middle of a production:
I am about to start work as an Office PA on a TV show. It’s a long run, from July to April.
I have 2 -3 days sporadically that I know I will need off. I am prepared to ask well in advance since I know the dates.
Am I allowed to ask for days off as a PA? How would I go about that?
The word “sporadically” threw me off. I was afraid he meant 2-3 days off at a time, several times per season. So I wrote back to clarify, and Zack replied:
2 days are for travel that my family planned around Christmas, 1 would be to go home for the Jewish high holidays.
Zack’s in luck. Vacation plans and holidays are two of the more understandable excuses to take a day off. As we’ve explained in the past, it’s pretty impossible to plan a vacation, due to the eratic schedule most freelancers are on. TL;DR: book your travel days and hope for the best.1
Religious holidays can sometimes be tricky, depending on who you work for. Jews don’t “run Hollywood,” as the conspiracy theorists would have you believe, but there are a fair amount of Jewish people in the Industry. Most people won’t bat an eye if you say you need to take a day off for the High Holy Days.
On the flip side, when I asked for the morning off so I could attend Ash Wednesday mass, my boss scoffed and claimed he was raised Catholic and had never heard of “Ash Wednesday.” Luckily, the UPM happened to be walking by, and literally laughed in his face. “I don’t know what your parents taught you, but you weren’t raised Catholic.” Then he gave me the day off.
Other valid excuses include jury duty, because the law requires it, a death in the family, or being well and truly sick. Of course, you don’t really plan on any of those, so they don’t really pertain to Zack’s question.
Just a Few Days
Whatever the reason for taking time off, it’s really a function of how many days off you need compared to the total production. Taking off a couple days early for the mid-season hiatus is probably fine for a multi-month production. It’s more problematic if you want to take three days off a week-long commercial shoot.
If you’re asking for something like a week off, you better have a pretty good sob story. Like, your-sister’s-destination-wedding-was-booked-three-years-ago-and-you’re-the maid-of-honor good.
Don’t Just Ask
Assuming you have a real, legitimate need for a day off, don’t just ask. Lay the groundwork, first.
To begin with, don’t ever tell someone about your vacation plans during an interview. I cannot stress this enough. You will not get the job if your first impression you leave is of someone who’s not going to be there.
By extension, unless it’s absolutely necessary, do not ask for time off in the first couple weeks of the shoot. Everyone’s extra busy, not just trying to get the shot, but trying to figure out who the hell everyone else is on the shoot. You don’t want to be the guy asking for favors right from the start.
There’s one more thing to do before you ask– find a replacement. See if any of your gentile or single lady friends are between shows. It’s even better if you can find a couple of options.
Don’t lead your friends on, though. Just tell them your show might be in need of a day player on such-and-such dates, maybe. Don’t ask them to hold the date until you’ve gotten approval from the boss. Just ask for their resumes.
How to Ask
This is one of those situations where the direct approach is best. Just wait for a time when you and your boss are not (too) busy, go into their office (or trailer) and say, “Hey, boss. I was wondering if I could take Tuesday off; it’s Yom Kippur.”
Hopefully your boss says yes, at which point you can let them know you have a few options for day players. Hand over the resumes, with your favorite friend on top. That’s probably the one your boss will choose, anyway.
You get a couple days off, your buddy gets a couple days on set, and your boss doesn’t have to deal with any bullshit.
Now the only thing you have to worry about is if your friend is better at your job than you are…
- The couple weeks around Christmas and New Years are a pretty safe bet, generally.↩